Homeless

Posted on July 7, 2015

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Whitetails living in unsuitable housing is not a choice, it’s an unfortunate reality. Left as is will result in dire calamity to those deer residing in the Northern regions of North America.

(Part II)

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Winter Habitat

The first principle of wildlife management, the application of ecological principles to the conservation of wildlife, is to sustain populations of wildlife by maintaining suitable habitat. Without the habitat, deer numbers will continue to rise and fall based entirely on something none of us can control or predict: winter severity.

If the Northern whitetail is to proliferate then we must provide the animal with adequate winter habitat. These requirements consist of lowland areas near watersheds that comprise mature white cedar, hemlock, balsam fir and spruce. They must be left untouched in uniform stands providing dense canopies.

Much of this vital ingredient to the whitetail’s survival has already been lost, at least in Maine. Phil Bozenhard, a former Regional Wildlife Biologist in Maine said:

Recent deer wintering area flights have revealed that many of the historic deer wintering areas that were put on maps in the 1970’s and 1980’s are no longer serving as wintering areas. Many of the areas have been harvested and others have seen extensive developments in and around them. It does not matter what the cause is, for once the habitat is altered beyond what is required to support deer during the winter months, and these areas are no longer used. While the remaining areas may be able to sustain deer during the mild winters, it does not appear that they can provide the needed protection in a severe winter. Unless we are willing to accept the losses from the occasional severe winter, it appears that additional protection for the remaining deer wintering areas in the Southern part of the state is needed if they are to provide the winter protection deer need to survive.

 

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The picture becomes even bleaker when we look at what Henry Hilton, Maine’s IFW animal damage control coordinator writes. “The real obstacle in attaining a higher deer population in more than half the state is the declining quality and quantity of winter habitat for deer. In Northern, Western, and Eastern sections of Maine, inadequate wintering habitat is the primary factor limiting deer population.” Former lead deer biologist, Gerry Lavigne expressed in a report dated 1995, “that the real obstacle to attaining a higher deer population in more than half of the state is the declining quality and quantity of wintering habitat for deer.” Mr. Lavigne urged his agency to “find an efficient way to protect and enhance a minimum of 1.5 million acres of wintering habitat, statewide.”

And then in his post-retirement in 2011, Mr. Lavigne wrote Deer Management at the Crossroads – a status report on efforts to restore deer populations in eastern and northern Maine. It stated, “First, the loss of deer wintering habitat must be reversed. Second, too many deer are being killed by predators, chiefly eastern coyote and black bear. Third, hunting of antlerless deer must remain very limited to improve annual survival of adult does.” He also credited the bucks-only restrictions in use for the past 27 years with having, probably slowed the decline in deer populations in the northern half of Maine, but they have been insufficient to reverse that decline… Continued application of conservative doe harvest strategies remains essential to successful deer recovery, but it must be complimented by predator control and wintering habitat restoration.
Is it too late to re-establish the amount and type of habitat needed for Northern whitetails? In my opinion no, but we can no longer just talk about it. Severe winters can’t be predicted and mild ones cannot be relied upon as a population controller.

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If traditional deeryards or newly established wintering grounds are left in tact, meaning no tree removal and the acreage is double the size necessary for carrying capacity under all but the severest conditions, the whitetail can take care of itself without man’s intervention. The double-size is paramount to ensure enough escape trails from predation and to ensure over-browsing doesn’t occur. According to Henry Hilton, “Effects of coyote predation are the most damaging in parts of the state where deer wintering habitat quality has been severely reduced.”

Whitetails, much like bass, follow contours in the land. They establish main-line trails that run parallel with the land formation. The current logging practice for tree harvesting, at least within the areas that I have visited, opens avenues perpendicular to the contours and thus creates forest openings along the deer’s main-line trails.

Am I going to dictate to a landowner what he or she can or can’t do with their land? Absolutely not. Am I going to insinuate as to what trees they can or cannot cut? Not this guy. I’m well aware that every tree that hits the forest floor is an economic gain for the landowner, jobber and mill. What I would suggest is a number of sound, basic principles that could satisfy the economy as well as aid the whitetail.

One of these solutions would be for States to acquire tracts of land ideally suited and used as winter deer habitat, and leave it as is. However, this is not as easy a solution as it may seem. In a complex land swap completed in 2006, the State of Maine gave a Land Company parcels that had been designated as potential deer wintering habitat with stipulations regarding any future cutting. Long story short, cutting took place without notification and the habitat is no longer. There are only two biologists in this jurisdiction who oversee 50,000 acres of deer habitat on 3.5 million acres. The problem here is that biologists aren’t woods police and the deterrent is not enough to prevent this from happening over and over again.

 

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Another alternative would be to remunerate landowners for not harvesting trees in and around deeryards. Paying landowners for land use is not a new concept. In fact, past documentation proves that our government has subsidized farmers for not growing crops on their own land. Traditionally, sportsmen have always carried the bulk of the financial burden for wildlife habitat and I see this scenario as being no different.

There are a variety of methods hunters could use to turn their frustration into action. Two of the simplest avenues with the least impact are to provide a voluntary opportunity to donate a small amount of money with their license purchase, and raise the charge to tag a deer once the fortunate hunter brings it in for registration. In order for this program to work, hunters need to be involved and they have to be guaranteed that all monies will be used exclusively for this project. I sensethat by closely working with the biologists – trained professionals hired by hunter’s dollar to care for the deer – this collaborative effort would curb finger pointing and benefit our whitetails, which is the ultimate goal of both parties.

The Coyote

When things go south there has to be a scapegoat and it seems that the coyote has become the poster child villain for the northern whitetails severe decline. After all, nobody wants the accusatory finger pointed at them on their watch. Do coyotes kill deer? Yes, but so do we, and therein lies the rub: competition for the same resource. Have we made it easier for coyotes to kill deer? Unquestionably, and we have facilitated it by the reduction in both quantity and quality of the whitetail’s over-winter habitat.

According to QDMA’s Whitetail Report 2010, “In extreme or persistent cases of coyote predation, deer populations have been regulated. Specifically when coupled with continual negative reproductive conditions, such as in areas with inherently low deer densities, poor habitats, or perpetually severe environments.”

 

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The report goes on to say, “Coyotes have successfully invaded all areas of whitetail range and they’ll be an annual variable in deer management programs. Whether rural or urban and north or south, coyotes are now part of the dynamic relationship between deer and the environment. Coyotes can affect deer herds positively or negatively, so their presence can’t be summed with a broad generalization. Their actual impacts will need to be measured and monitored, and deer seasons and bag limits can be adjusted if necessary. The important thing is to realize they are now a player in many deer management programs, and as managers, we need to acknowledge them as such.”

Aldo Leopold, the foremost conservationist in modern America believed the prevalent idea of exterminating wolves, coyotes and other predators for the sake of having more deer to hunt is wrong. He suggests that this is the result of our impulse to destroy anything that competes with us for food, shelter or anything else.

Should we control coyote populations? Absolutely, but the eradication of the coyote or any other predator is not the answer for a deer hunter’s paradise, nor is it viable.

 

What Next?

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Our successive generations of hunters, grandchildren and great grandchildren, will be the benefactors of our actions. What will we leave them? Will we treat the deer in such a way as to bring them back from the corral? This much I know: it takes four years to see a whitetail to maturity and at least forty years to put a canopy over its head.

 

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer